Who's Who in Musicals: Hart-Hutton
by John Kenrick
Hart, Lorenz "Larry"
b. May 2, 1895 (New York City) - d. Nov. 22, 1943 (NYC)
Hart's witty, intricate and sometimes cynical lyrics found their perfect counterpoint in the rich melodies of Richard Rodgers his only professional songwriting partner. Teaming up soon after Hart graduated Columbia, Rodgers & Hart struggled for several years before winning attention with the score for The Garrick Gaieties (1925), which included the hit song "Manhattan." They went on to write 29 stage musicals, including A Connecticut Yankee (1927), Jumbo (1935), On Your Toes (1936), Babes in Arms (1937), and Pal Joey (1940).
Rodgers & Hart contributed songs to a dozen films, including the innovative commercial failures Love Me Tonight (1932) and Hallelujah I'm a Bum (1933). Despite Hart's many personal demons, his lyrical legacy confirms his status as one of the brightest lights of Broadway's golden age. "My Funny Valentine," "Blue Moon," "Where or When" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" show Hart at his bittersweet best. Although abetted by his nefarious confidant "Doc" Bender, Hart pursued his own self-destruction with extraordinary dedication. Tormented by his almost gnomish appearance and unable to accept his own homosexuality, Hart drank himself to death at age 48. You can learn more about Larry Hart in our special section on Gays and Musicals, or read Frederick Nolan's Lorenz Hart: A Poet On Broadway (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1996).
Playwright, librettist, director
b. Oct. 24, 1904 (New York City) - d. Dec. 20, 1961 (Palm Springs, Cal.)
Survivor of an underprivileged and emotionally starved youth, Hart wrote his first plays while he was an office boy for road tour producer/manager Augustus Pitou. When those shows flopped, he feared his theatrical career was over. After several years as a Catskill resort entertainment director, he collaborated with director-playwright George S. Kaufman on the hit comedy Once in a Lifetime (1929). Hart quickly became one of America's top playwrights, working on many hit comedies -- including the Pulitzer Prize winning Kaufmann & Hart classic, You Can't Take It With You (1936). Confused for many years about his sexuality, Hart spent most of his adult life battling chronic depression with extensive psychotherapy, which may have added insight and complexity to the fictional characters he created.
Hart contributed librettos to several important Broadway musicals, including Irving Berlin's revues Face the Music (1932) and As Thousands Cheer (1933), and Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's I'd Rather Be Right (1937). Hart eventually showcased his interest in psychiatric counseling in the libretto for Kurt Weill & Ira Gershwin's landmark musical drama Lady in the Dark (1941). In his later years, Hart proved to be a distinguished director, helming numerous non-musical plays, as well as Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady (1957). Felled by a heart attack while helming the tumultuous pre-Broadway tryout of Camelot (1960), Hart successfully revised the show after its New York opening, then suffered a terminal coronary several months later while standing outside his home in Palm Springs.
Hart's memoir Act One is one of the most delightful books ever written about life in the theatre, but later research has proven much of his content to be creative fiction. His widow, actress and opera singer Kitty Carlisle Hart, had a distinguished show business career, and headed the New York State Council on The Arts for many years. For more on Hart, see Steven Bach's insightful biography Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart (New York: Knopf, 2001).
(b. Anthony J. Cannon)
b. July 25, 1855 (Worcester, Mass) - d. Nov. 4, 1891 (Worcester)
Hart escaped a reform school to start a career touring in variety. He soon teamed up with Edward Harrigan, and the duo won acclaim with slapstick skits, most notably one in which they sang of "The Mulligan Guards." This satire of the paramilitary units common in late 19th century American cities eventually inspired a series of popular farcical musical comedies that focused on the experiences of lower class immigrant New Yorkers. Hart was noted for his extraordinary ability to portray women, especially the comic blackface role of "Rebecca Allup" in several of these "Mulligan Guard" shows.
Hart's drag performances were so uncanny that some eventually questioned his sexual orientation, and his marriage to the strong-willed Gerta Granville did little to quell any rumors. When Gerta encouraged him to feel professionally and personally slighted by Harrigan's nepotistic hiring practices in their theatre company, Hart ended the partnership and tried starring in his own productions. Advanced syphilis (Victorians called this then-incurable condition "paresis") soon forced him off the stage, leading to his madness and death at age 36.
b. June 18, 1934 (St. Louis, MO)
A versatile actor with a powerful baritone voice, Hearn has won acclaim in both dramatic and musical roles. He made his Broadway debut in the ill-fated musical A Time For Singing (1966), and took over the role of "John Dickenson" in 1776 both on tour and in New York. He co-starred with Colleen Dewhurst in the comedy An Almost Perfect Person before playing the father in the musical version of I Remember Mama (1979), singing Richard Rodgers' final ballad, "I Could Not Love You More."
In 1980, he took over the title role in Broadway's Sweeney Todd, co-starring with Dorothy Loudon. Hearn repeated his magnificent performance on tour with Angela Lansbury. Their TV version brought Hearn an Emmy. He was "Tovald" in the disastrous A Doll's House (1983), and soon afterward played the drag queen "Albin" in Jerry Herman's La Cage Aux Folles (1983). His endearing performance and soaring rendition of "I Am What I Am," brought him a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. In his acceptance speech, this confirmed heterosexual coyly quipped, "You call her Tony, but her real name is Antoinette!"
Hearn was "Ben" in the stellar 1985 concert version of Sondheim's Follies, and played "Long John Silver" in an unsuccessful regional tryout of Jule Styne's Pieces of Eight. He spent several months playing paternal attorney "Alonzo Smith" in the lavish Broadway adaptation of Meet Me In St. Louis (1989). He won a Best Featured Actor Tony as the mysterious butler "Max" in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard (1995), and triumphantly repeated his Sweeney Todd in two 2001 concert versions co-starring Patti Lupone one of which was televised on PBS. In 2004, he took over the role of "The Wizard" in the hit musical Wicked, and later played "Van Helsing" in an Off-Broadway revival of Dracula (2010).
(b. Helene Anna Held)
b. Mar. 18, 1873 (Warsaw, Poland) - d. Aug. 12, 1918 (New York City)
This Polish daughter of a Jewish German glove maker became the toast of Paris and London music halls, where she was discovered by Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld. He married Held and presented her in a series of lavish American musical comedies, using outrageous publicity ploys to make her name famous all across the US. After Ziegfeld deserted her, Held went on to a successful solo career. Until her death at age 45, she insisted on being native-born French and Catholic, vehemently denying her Polish-Jewish heritage. For extensive details on Held's life and career, see our extended Held biography.
b. Feb. 1, 1859 (Dublin, Ireland) - d. May 24, 1924 (New York City)
A classical cellist, Herbert trained in continental Europe, where he played under the batons of Johannes Brahms and Anton Rubenstein. The composer of numerous orchestral works, Herbert served as conductor of the prestigious Pittsburgh Symphony (1889-1904) while he launched a second career and equally prestigious career as a composer of Broadway operettas and musical comedies. His lilting melodies adorned such hits as The Fortune Teller (1898), Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste (1905), The Red Mill (1906) and Sweethearts (1913). Herbert was the first Broadway songwriter to successfully insist that no changes be made in his scores without his permission, a precedent that did much to reshape the role of composers in the American theatre. He collaborated with a long list of lyricists, including Harry B. Smith, Henry Blossom --and the rarely mentioned Frederique DeGresac, one of the first women to write successfully for the commercial musical stage.
Altogether, Herbert composed 43 complete Broadway scores, creating all his own orchestrations. His most lasting success was the operetta Naughty Marietta (1910), the story of an Italian noblewoman who escapes an arranged European marriage to find true love with soldier Jim Warrington in colonial New Orleans. The hit score included "The Neapolitan Street Song," "I'm Falling in Love With Someone," "Neath the Southern Moon" and "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life."
Herbert's music was featured in several editions of The Ziegfeld Follies, and he provided ballet music for the long-running Marilyn Miller hit Sally (1920). Herbert's grand opera Natoma premiered successfully at the Metropolitan Opera in 1911. An American citizen as of 1902, this gifted Irish native was a driving force behind the creation of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which he co-founded with Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan and others. Legend holds that the aggravation of working with volatile producer Florenz Ziegfeld brought on Herbert's fatal stroke at age 65. His best songs remained popular through the 20th century, including "Every Day is Ladies Day," "Kiss Me Again" and "The Streets of New York (In Old New York)." Herbert's "I'm Falling in Love With Someone" was rediscovered in the Tony-winning stage version of Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002).
b. July 10, 1932 (New York City)
Known for his optimistic themes and "hummable" melodies, Herman made his Broadway debut with the score for Milk and Honey (1961), an original musical romance set in Israel. He then wrote Hello Dolly! (1964) -- a musicalization of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker -- for producer David Merrick. With a book by Michael Stewart and stellar performance by Carol Channing in the title role, Dolly won Tonys for Best Score and Best Musical. With a succession of stars, it became the longest running Broadway musical up to that time with 2844 performances. Herman scored a second mega-hit with his score for Mame (1966), which won a Tony for actress Angela Lansbury and made her a top-rank musical star. It also racked up 1508 performances on Broadway, and became a staple in the world's musical stage repertory.
Herman's next three shows had brief runs, but Dear World (1969) with Lansbury, Mack and Mabel (1974) with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters and The Grand Tour (1979) with Joel Grey are justifiably admired for their fine scores. Herman contributed songs to the popular Broadway revue A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (1980). The internationally acclaimed hit La Cage Aux Folles (1983) starring George Hearn brought Herman every major award, including a second set of Tonys for Best Score and Best Musical -- and yet another show that would be produced worldwide. Herman wrote the songs for (and made a cameo appearance in) the CBS television musical Mrs. Santa Claus (1996) starring Lansbury, and created a delightful score for the unproduced Las Vegas musical Miss Spectacular. After receiving a special Tony in 2009 for lifetime achievement, Herman announced his retirement from songwriting.
(b. Florimond Ronger)
b. June 30, 1825 (Houdain, France) - d. Nov, 4, 1892 (Paris)
This church organist and classical composer used the name "Herve" for his stage compositions. He eventually turned out 60 comic light opera scores, but never quite escaped the shadow of his celebrated contemporary, Jacques Offenbach. Rarely performed today, Herv''s operettas included L'Oeil Creve (1867), Chilperic (1868), Le Petit Faust (1869) and La Cosaque (1884).
(b. Judith Tuvim)
b. June 21, 1921 (New York City) - d. June 7, 1965 (NYC)
This well-loved comedienne got her start in a cabaret act ("The Revuers") with fellow unknowns Betty Comden and Adolph Green. She attained solo stardom as former chorus girl "Billie Dawn" in the long-running stage comedy Born Yesterday (1946), and eventually won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in the 1950 film adaptation. In between, she managed a memorable performance as "Doris Attinger,"the wronged wife who shoots her husband in the screen comedy Adam's Rib (1949). Holliday attained her greatest personal success originating the role of "Ella Peterson" in the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing (1956), which Comden and Green wrote for her with composer Jule Styne. As meddling answering service operator "Ella Peterson," Holliday introduced "The Party's Over" and sang "Just In Time" with co-star Sydney Chaplin. She re-created the role opposite Dean Martin in the 1960 film version. Unfortunately, in an era plagued by political blacklisting, Holliday's screen career was hampered by questionable accusations that she was a communist sympathizer. She starred as "Sally Hopwinder" in the ill-fated Hot Spot (1963). Breast cancer ended her life at age 42.
b. April 29, 1917 (New York City)
After making her Broadway debut in 1938, this talented actress appeared with George M. Cohan in his last play, Return of the Vagabond (1940). Her strong singing voice and superb comic instincts won her the role of "Ado Annie" in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's landmark musical Oklahoma! (1943), introducing "I Cain't Say No." She starred as Evelina in Bloomer Girl (1944), singing Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg's "Right as Rain." As a favor to Rodgers and Hammerstein, she took over as "Anna" during Gertrude Lawrence's extended 1952 vacation from The King and I.
Holm became a major dramatic star in Hollywood, winning an Oscar for her performance in Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and played "Karen Richards" in the classic All About Eve (1950). Her best big screen musical role was as press photographer "Liz" in High Society (1956), where she introduced Cole Porter's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" with Frank Sinatra. She played the Fairy Godmother in the first color remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1965). Holm frequently returned to Broadway, taking over the title role in Mame in 1967. She later starred as headmistress "Julia Faysle" in the witty but short-lived Utter Glory of Morrisey Hall (1979). She starred in daytime soap opera for several years, and but cut back on appearances after a stoke in 2002. In 2004, she celebrated her 87th birthday by marrying opera singer Frank Basile.
Hopper, De Wolf William
Actor, singer, producer
b. Mar. 30, 1858 (New York City) - d. Sept. 23, 1935 (Kansas City, MO)
One of the first great male stars of the American musical stage, Hopper was a native New Yorker. His father was Quaker lawyer John Hopper, while his mother Rosalie DeWolf came from a noted colonial family. Hopper originally aimed to be a serious actor, but at six foot three and 230 pounds, he was far too large for most dramatic roles. Thanks to a loud basso singing voice, Hopper soon made his mark in musicals, beginning in Harrigan and Hart's company. He achieved leading man status in The Black Hussar (1885), eventually starring in more than thirty Broadway musicals, including Castles in the Air (1890), Wang (1891) and John Phillip Sousa's El Capitan (1899). His favorite role was Old Bill in The Better Ole (1919).
An acclaimed comedian, Hopper appeared in a number of Gilbert and Sullivan patter roles. As a lifelong baseball fan, he was often called upon to give his colorful recitation of Ernest L. Thayer's poem "Casey at the Bat." Bald from childhood, he wore wigs both on and offstage quite unusual for men of his era. Adding to his various eccentricities, the harsh medications he took to alleviate throat problems gave Hopper's skin a bluish tint in his later years. With an insatiable appetite for young actresses, he left a trail of six wives and countless mistresses in his wake -- winning the nickname "the husband of his country." (Fifth wife Hedda Hopper failed as an actress but went on to become one of Hollywood's most feared gossip columnists.) After taking over the role of Lutz in Broadway's The Student Prince (1927), Hopper made his last Broadway appearance in the operetta White Lilacs (1928). He died of a heart attack at age 77, and his ashes are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn.
(b. Walter Houghston)
b. April 6, 1884 (Toronto, Canada) - d. April 7, 1950 (Beverly Hills, CA)
One of the most respected dramatic actors of his time, Huston was also an accomplished musical performer who got his start in vaudeville as half of the song and dance team Whipple and Huston. On Broadway, Huston gave a masterful performance as New York's dictatorial colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant in the Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson musical Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), introducing the haunting "September Song." (His performance can be heard in a radio version preserved on CD.) Huston's most memorable musical film role was as genial Jerry Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). This deft portrayal of the old-time vaudevillian brought particular satisfaction to Jerry's son and Huston's longtime friend, George M. Cohan. Huston also played the genial father in Summer Holiday (1948), a lavish but mediocre MGM musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah Wilderness. That film was so uneven that the studio did not release it until two years after its completion. Huston died from an aortic aneurysm just one day after his 66th birthday. His son John became a top screen director, whose only musical was the clumsy screen version of Annie (1982).
(b. Elizabeth June Thornburg)
b. Feb. 26, 1921 (Battle Creek, MI) - d. Mar. 11, 2007 (Palm Springs)
With a powerhouse belt voice and almost painfully vibrant personality, Hutton won attention as a radio singer before making her Broadway debut as a supporting actress in the Ethel Merman vehicle Panama Hattie (1940). Paramount Pictures starred her in a series of wartime screen musicals, including The Fleet's In (1942), Let's Face It (1943) and the aptly titled Incendiary Blonde (1945). Hutton went on to well-received performances in The Perils of Pauline (1947) and Red, Hot and Blue (1949), among other films.
When Judy Garland was unable to complete MGM's screen version of Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Hutton landed the most memorable role of her career. Her relentlessly aggressive performance style proved less effective when she co-starred with Fred Astaire in Let's Dance (1950). She appeared in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and Somebody Loves Me (1952), as well as the TV musical Satin and Spurs (1954), but Hutton's temperamental off-screen behavior brought her film career to a swift end. A series of professional, financial and emotional hardships took their toll, and by the 1970s she was working as a housekeeper in a Rhode Island church rectory. After making a brief Broadway comeback taking over the role of Miss Hannigan in the long-running Annie (1980), Hutton returned to private life. Long estranged from her children, she died at age 86 of colon cancer.